Trade Offs for Sustainability

Sustainability is All About Trade Offs

By Tim Hammerich, with the Ag Information Network

There is often misunderstanding and disagreement on what is truly sustainable when it comes to food and agriculture. Food futurist and author Jack Bobo said a lot of this difference in perspective comes from how localized your point of view is coming from. He says it’s a continuum that involves trade offs along the way.

“We need to think of sustainability, not in terms of good or bad or right or wrong, but in terms of choices and consequences. Consumers think of sustainability in terms of local sustainability,” Bobo said. “If I use less water, less fertilizer, less insecticides, that’s good. But agribusinesses think in terms of global sustainability. The more intensively I farm, the lower the impact in other places. And so it’s a continuum from local sustainability to global sustainability, and there will always be trade offs between the two.

“Organic has a lower local environmental footprint often, but it has a bigger global footprint because you just need more acres. Consumers though, are working with food companies and asking for regenerative because it has that local environmental benefit, but we need them to also understand the global consequences of that,” explained Bobo.

Bobo recently released a new book titled “Why Smart People Make Bad Food Choices”.

2021-09-08T21:07:09-07:00September 8th, 2021|

Ag-Tech Needs to Collaborate

Agtech Companies Need to Integrate and Collaborate

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network 

As technology for the farm has developed, new problems have emerged. Two big ones for autonomous farming, said Carbon Robotics CEO Paul Mikesell, are too many separate applications that don’t integrate, and no way for companies to interact with each other on the farm level.

“We have this sort of field readiness for autonomy problem that I think we’re going to have to work together to overcome so that we can have a cooperative environment. Airplanes do this with a system called ADS-B where they talk to each other. We need to have some way for these different companies to work together so that they don’t bump into each other, and so that they can schedule around each other. And it’s not even just the autonomous stuff, but it’s things like where are the center pivots and what direction are they going? And things like that,” said Mikesell.

Mikesell noted at an even more fundamental level, all of ag-tech needs better ways to integrate with each other so that farmers don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to add a new tool.

“What I think would be bad for everybody is if all of these companies went out and had their own independent walled garden platform. And then as a farmer, you don’t have any, the ability to jump from one to the other or aggregate the data together.” explained Mikesell. “As a farmer, you want to be able to see all that stuff together, and if everybody’s doing this separate and there’s not an open platform, we’re going to wind up in a spot that just makes things worse. You know, like why do you have so many apps on your phone, right? It’s because well everything tries to keep itself separate.”

Carbon Robotics is one ag-tech company seeking collaboration in these areas.

 

2021-09-07T20:56:15-07:00September 7th, 2021|

Field Bindweed And Tomatoes

Field Bindweed Yield Impacts on Processing Tomatoes May be Less Than Expected

By Scott Stoddard,  County Director and UCANR Farm Advisor, Merced County

Field bindweed (Convolvulsus arvensis) is considered by many tomato growers to be the most problematic of all weeds in California production areas. Indeed, field bindweed and the closely related morningglory weeds were ranked the 8th most troublesome weeds in North America in a recent survey by the Weed Science Society of America (Van Wychen, 2019).

The rapid adoption of drip irrigation and the economic necessity of maintaining the beds and replanting with only minimal tillage for multiple seasons in processing tomatoes has created a system where field bindweed has become more prevalent. Field bindweed is extremely difficult to control because it propagates from seed and vegetatively from buds formed in the roots. Seedlings can be controlled with tillage when very young, but they become perennial very rapidly. Chemical control of seedlings is possible, but established plants are much more difficult to control.

Established plants often have a large root system relative to the amount of top growth, and thus are extremely tolerant of post emergence herbicides such as carfentrazone (Shark), glufosinate (Rely), and glyphosate (Roundup).

Bindweed is a headache not only for its persistent and pernicious growth habit and ability to reduce tomato yields, but also because it can physically stop a processing tomato harvester in the field. Vigorously growing vines can become entangled around the shaker and conveyor belts, requiring the equipment operator to shut down and manually clear out the foliage.

Several years ago, myself and other UC researchers conducted herbicide trials evaluating field bindweed control — with marginal success. In a given year and location, most of the registered herbicides in tomatoes gave only temporary suppression – about 40 – 80% bindweed control at 8 weeks after transplanting. Best results were observed where herbicides were stacked: trifluralin (Treflan) pre-plant incorporated followed by rimsulfuron (Matrix) post. Glyphosate helped in situations where the bindweed emerged early and could be applied before transplanting.

2021-09-01T21:02:16-07:00September 1st, 2021|

Benefits of Gene Editing in Produce

Gene Editing in Produce Could Help Solve Food Shortages

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network 

 

Throughout the GMO revolution of many row crops, the technology was largely not applied to the fresh produce industry. Gene editing, however, is different. It allows breeders to edit the genome of these crops in the same way that could happen in nature, speeding up the process and opening new doors to solve problems in the food supply. Here’s Produce Marketing Association vp of technology Vonnie Estes.

 

“There’s a number of things like, non-browning is a trait that’s pretty easy to do on a lot of different crops,” said Estes.  “And so that really allows for a lot less food waste. And so let’s focus on that. How can we make, you know, fruit and vegetables, more convenient so that people, especially children eat more of them? And so looking at the convenience factor is important. So I think we’re at this really great point right now of we have these tools, you know, how do we move this along so that it’s best for the consumer?”

Estes sees big benefits to gene editing technology for consumers, the planet, and for farmers.

“You know, these technologies are really going to help as we start having the effects of climate change more, where you don’t have as much water as you used to. And so you have to grow a different variety because you don’t have as much water, or it’s too hot. Really being able to use gene editing to help around climate change and where people are growing crops is going to make a big difference,” explained Estes.

 

The key, says Estes, will be communicating about this technology to consumers.

2021-08-18T17:26:30-07:00August 18th, 2021|

Composting Helps Soils, and Reduce Irrigation Needs

Compost for Climate Resilient Salinas Valley

 

Climate change is not a future threat to the Central Coast region. The region is experiencing it now and the effects are predicted to continue to intensify.

“Symptoms of climate change including increased temperatures, wildfire intensity, storm anomalies and sea water intrusion into ground water aquifers are dramatically impacting the production of specialty crops that are important and grown in the region such as cool season vegetables,” Laura Murphy, Resource Conservation District Monterey County.

Laura Murphy

“The soils of the Salinas Valley and surrounding regions are one of the most important resources we have. Protecting them against a changing climate is critical to the future of the region. Recycling organic materials back into agriculture as compost is a solution,” explained Murphy.

Adapting to these changes in the climate requires a change in farming practices. Improving the health of the soil is one way to adapt and mitigate some of the most important harmful impacts to protect both the economic and ecological viability of the region. “Climate-smart soil management acknowledges the important role of soil in providing climate mitigation options and aims to foster co-benefits such as greenhouse gas reduction, soil carbon sequestration and farm resiliency to the extreme weather and drought conditions,” said Murphy.

“Implementing conservation practices in intensively managed vegetable production systems has always been difficult, but the application of compost can provide producers with very much needed flexibility to increase conservation goals and simultaneously develop farm resiliency to the symptoms of climate change,” noted Murphy.  “Increasing soil organic matter has numerous benefits, including increased water holding capacity, improved nutrient cycling and plant nutrient availability, diversifying and enhancing soil biological life and increasing carbon sequestration. These benefits of increased soil organic matter can lead to crop benefits including reduced irrigation demands, increased nutrient use efficiency and stabilized yields,” she said.

Beginning in 2022, California’s new state mandate, SB 1383, essentially eliminates organic materials from being landfilled to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and divert edible food for human consumption. “Diverting organic waste from landfills through composting not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the waste sector but also allows for nutrients to be cycled back into managed landscapes,” said Darlene Ruiz, with Salinas Valley Recycles.

Darlene Ruiz

“Compost is a stable nutrient-rich amendment that consists of a variety of organic materials that have gone through a heating and curing treatment process to be stabilized for use in agricultural production. Understanding the importance of protecting the public, each batch of compost produced undergoes a process to reduce pathogens, or PFRP, which requires piles to reach 131 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours, effectively eliminating harmful pathogens,” noted Ruiz. “Extra testing for human pathogens such as E. Coli and salmonella, ensures that the product is safe to use on crops that will be consumed fresh, such as lettuce. Documentation of these tests are available upon request,” she explained.

Compost is made by carefully mixing feed stocks of different carbon and nitrogen-rich materials. At the Johnson Canyon organics facility, state-of-the-art technology called ASP, or Aerated Static Pile, composting is used to create a consistent thermal treatment of the material. “Daily record-keeping of times and temperatures are required by local permits and state regulations and can be made available upon request,” said Andrew Tuckman, with Vision Recycling.

Andrew Tuckman

“After going through the heating process the material is allowed to cool and cure, enlivening it with beneficial microbial life and stabilizing it for sale. Transporting and spreading can be a sustainable component of the cost of purchasing material. It’s recommended that you discuss this with the composter and plan ahead,” he said.

With growers under increasing pressure to limit the application of nitrogen fertilizer due to potential harmful impacts to public and ecological health, compost application can help build soil nutrient reserves which results in a maintenance of significant proportions of crop demand while complying with water quality regulations. “Incorporating organic amendments into nutrient management plans can help reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers and improve soil conditions for future crops. Understanding soil nitrate levels is one of the most important actions growers can take to limit nitrogen loss,” said Carlos Rodriguez-Lopez, UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.

Carlos Rodriguez-Lopez

Using the soil nitrate quick test or other soil nitrogen testing methods before compost applications can help when choosing products. The carbon to nitrogen ratio of compost can be an important indicator of whether applications will retain nitrogen or release it for further uptake.

“At times, nutrient managers may want to immobilize nutrients and at other times, make them available,” said Rodriguez-Lopez. “Application timing can vary depending on management objectives. Either late in the fall, before winter rains, early spring or in between crops after the summer fallow. Application rates can also vary. Rates that are aimed at maintenance of soil organic matter may, after multiple applications, be as low as 4 to 5 tons per acre,” he said.

“If land is critically low in soil organic matter, higher rates of 10 plus tons per acre may be appropriate. No one recommendation fits all. Each field and crop location is different requiring unique approaches,” explained Rodriguez-Lopez.

2021-08-16T16:32:14-07:00August 16th, 2021|

Navel Orangeworm Research Funding Hopefully Continues

Navel Orangeworm Research Close to Approval

The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations approved the Navel Orangeworm (NOW project) at $8.1 million for FY 2022. If Congress approves the FY 2022 appropriation, it will have provided a total of $22.2 million in research funds for the purpose of limiting the damage being caused by the navel orangeworm. APG and the Navel Orangeworm Action Committee submitted FY 2022 appropriation requests to the appropriate congressional offices and are actively engaging policymakers on the necessity of continued funding.

 

The FY2021 funding expires on September 30, 2021; there is already discussion of a continuing resolution to maintain government funding while FY2022 appropriations bills are negotiated and finalized.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has not announced a schedule to approve its versions of the FY2022 funding bills.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has used the appropriated funds to produce the sterile moths but the science has not kept pace with the program. Recently, APG organized a Zoom meeting with APHIS, Agriculture Research Service (ARS), USDA, and the NOW Action Committee to increase the role of ARS scientists in the NOW project.  Progress is being made. Bob Klein, Ph.D. Manager, California Pistachio Research Board, has been intimately involved in the program.

2021-08-05T18:09:23-07:00August 5th, 2021|

Big Increase in State Budget for UCANR

Governor Signs ‘Transformational’ Budget for UC ANR Research and Outreach

 

By Pam Kan Rice, UCANR Assistant Director, New and Information Outreach

The state budget signed by Governor Newsom Monday night [July 12] includes a historic increase for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The state restored UC ANR’s budget to pre-COVID levels of FY 2019-20 and provided a 5% increase plus an additional $32 million in ongoing funding, bringing total state support to $107.9 million for the division, which contains the county-based UC Cooperative Extension, Integrated Pest Management, and 4-H Youth Development programs.

“This budget increase is transformational and will allow us to rebuild UC Cooperative Extension’s boots-on-the-ground to help Californians cope with wildfire, drought, and climate adaptation,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

Over the past 20 years, state funding for UC ANR decreased by almost 50% (adjusted for inflation), resulting in a significant reduction of UC ANR’s Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists – from 427 positions in 2001 down to only 269 in 2021 – creating vacancies in many critical positions.

“We appreciate UC ANR stakeholders for sounding the alarm,” Humiston said. “And we are immensely grateful to Senator John Laird, chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Education, for recognizing this critical need and for his leadership and dedication to restoring UC ANR’s budget to bring back Cooperative Extension throughout California.”

With this new funding, UC ANR will begin recruiting for 20 UC Cooperative Extension academic positions and prioritizing many more critical positions for hiring during the next several months.

“As in the past, we will be talking to our community partners and other stakeholders to identify the most pressing needs to prioritize the next round of hiring,” Humiston said. “We must identify positions to address California’s emerging and future needs. While this state budget increase will allow UC ANR to hire more people, we will continue seeking funding from additional sources to expand access to our diverse resources for all Californians.”

To learn more about how UC ANR enhances economic prosperity protects natural resources, develops an inclusive and equitable society, safeguards food, develops the workforce, builds climate resilience, and promotes the health of people and communities in California, see the stories in its 2020 annual report at https://ucanr.edu/sites/UCANR/files/352362.pdf.

2021-07-27T11:22:09-07:00July 27th, 2021|

Study: New Fumigation Stategy

New Fumigation Techniques for Soilborne Diseases

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network

Protecting fruit from soilborne pathogens is a big concern for strawberry growers. Researchers at the University of California Ag and Natural Resources are looking to see if a drip application of fungicides might be effective, noted UC Cooperative Extension advisor in entomology and biologicals, Surendra Dara.

“This particular study was based on a request from FMC. They wanted to evaluate if drip application of some fungicides could be supplemental to whatever the growers are currently following to control soilborne diseases. And they also wanted to see if it has any impact on improving the crop health, and potentially other diseases,” said Dara.

Dara noted the results from the first trial were positive, but he didn’t see enough incidence of soilborne disease in the control group to be sure. He’s optimistic though, given drip application of fungicides has been effective on other plant pathogens.

“They do apply fungicides to drip, but not necessarily for soilborne diseases. The management practices are usually obtaining clean transplants and fumigating or crop rotation. These are the typical management recommendations for soil-borne diseases,” explained Dara.

Dara hopes to continue to study the potential for this management practice.

2021-07-23T21:22:40-07:00July 22nd, 2021|

Lowering Cattle Emissions Part 2

Cattle Feed Additives Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(Part Two)

 

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network

Researchers at UC Davis are finding that a seaweed-based feed additive can drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cattle. One of the nice things about this approach is it does not have to replace any of the normal rations these cattle are fed. Ermias Kebreab is the associate dean and professor of animal science at UC Davis.

“The ration is going to be exactly the same. There’s nothing changing in the ration because we are giving the feed additive in such a small quantity. It has no contribution to the nutrition of the diet,” said Kebreab

This does represent an additional expense for producers, but Kebreab says regulations will make it necessary.

“There are states like California, who are going to mandate a reduction of methane emissions by 40% in the next nine years. So when you have a Monday like that, then it becomes more attractive to get something like this, to be able to show that you’re achieving the reductions that the state is mandating. And I see that this kind of thing is going to happen more and more often, particularly as the livestock industry in the U S and worldwide, has a goal to achieve net zero. And if you have something like this would really, really help the whole industry achieving net zero, a lot quicker than otherwise,” said Kabreab.

Further research will look at the use of these feed additives under various conditions.

2021-04-20T15:27:07-07:00April 20th, 2021|

Dirty Dozen List is Unscientific

Despite Significant Criticism, “Dirty Dozen” List Continues

After facing significant criticism in 2020 for the release of its “dirty dozen” list and raising unfounded food safety fears among consumers during the early days of the pandemic, it seems the list authors are again determined to move forward with its release in 2021.

Although the list has been repeatedly discredited by scientists, has been shown to negatively impact the produce purchasing habits of low-income consumers and 94% of registered dietitians surveyed agreed that the “dirty dozen” list messaging hinders their ability to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among their clients and consumers, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) continues to cling to this decades-old tactic.

As we have in previous years, the Alliance for Food and Farming calls on EWG’s leadership to instead prioritize public health and the best interest of consumers by using their considerable resources and connections to advance public and private initiatives that promote increased consumption of fruits and vegetables

 

Decades of nutritional studies prove that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can improve immune function, encourages weight loss, prevents diseases and prolongs life span.  However, only one in 10 Americans eat enough each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control.  One such study from Tufts University found that “prescriptions” for fruits and veggies would prevent 1.93 million cardiovascular events (such as heart attacks) and 350,000 deaths, as well as cut healthcare costs by $40 billion.

Further toxicology studies and government sampling data consistently have shown the safety of the very same popular produce items on the “dirty dozen” list.  The United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report shows that 99% of the foods samples had residue levels well below government safety standards.  And 42% has no detectable residues at all.

And, an analysis by university toxicologists found that a child could eat hundreds to thousands of servings each day of the produce items included on EWG’s list and still not have any health effects from residues because the levels are so minute, if they are present at all.

Faced with the weight of considerable scientific facts, EWG simply cannot continue to disparage the more affordable and accessible fruits and vegetables by calling them “dirty” and promoting false and fear-based messaging.  This tactic runs completely counter to recommendations by health experts and nutritionists everywhere who state that consumers can eat either organic or conventional produce with confidence – both are safe and nutritious.

 

The pandemic has illustrated the importance of providing consumers with science-based information so they can make the right health and safety choices for themselves and their families.  It has also shown us the harm from repeated misinformation.  Encouraging consumption by supporting and reassuring consumers about their produce choices is the right thing to do. And, it’s time for EWG to do what’s right and what’s best for public health. Click here to like or share this blog.

#NoMoreDirtyDozen, #FactsNotFears, #Eat More Produce

2021-05-13T16:08:09-07:00March 9th, 2021|
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